Alaska Airlines begins pre-selling Premium Class seating

Many passengers of Seattle-headquartered Alaska Airlines will now be able to purchase seats in the airline’s new Premium Class section for flights on select routes beginning Jan. 5, 2017.

As reported by TheTravelPro almost a year ago, the Seattle-headquartered airline is joining the Big Three legacy U.S. carriers and adding a premium economy section to its main cabin. At present, the only options for passengers wanting extra legroom in the main cabin is to purchase an upgrade or use accrued miles to upgrade to a seat in an exit row or on the bulkhead.

Alaska Airlines' new Premium Class seating NYSE:ALK
Alaska's new Premium Class seating
Passengers traveling on select routes beginning Jan. 5 can now purchase seats in the new Premium Class section, which features pitch – the distance from the back of one seat to the back of the seat in front - of 35 inches compared to 31 to 32 inches in the rest of the main cabin.

In addition to the legroom, passengers seated in Premium Class will be offered early boarding, snacks and complimentary beverages.

"Premium Class is the most recent example of the on-going investment we are making to enhance the customer experience on our airplanes," Andrew Harrison, Alaska EVP and chief commercial officer, said in a statement announcing Premium Class availability.

Initial prices for Premium Class seats range from $15 to $79 over standard economy and are based on the length of the flight. Alaska Mileage Plan MVP, Gold and Gold 75K members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades to Premium Class either at the time of booking or up to 24 hours in advance of travel, depending on their status and the fare purchased.

The carrier is in the process of retrofitting much of its fleet of primarily Boeing (NYSE:BA) 737s to accommodate the new section and expects half the fleet to be retrofitted by the end of the year. The balance of the fleet is expected to be retrofitted during 2017.

Depending on the model of 737, Premium Class will consist of the first four or five rows of seats in the main cabin. While the airline is not publishing which flights prior to Jan. 5 will have Premium Class, passengers flying before then who are fortunate enough to have a seat in the first four or five rows will get the extra legroom without an extra charge. They will not, however, be offered early boarding, snacks or complimentary beverages.

Premium Class is replacing Preferred Plus, which offered seating in exit rows and bulkhead seats. Customers on flights that have yet to be retrofitted can still can purchase extra legroom starting at $15, during booking, check-in, at the airport, or through the Alaska Airlines mobile app.

Once an aircraft is upgraded, exit row seats will no longer be available for purchase, the airline said.

The addition of between 24 and 30 Premium Class seats in its 737s will mean a significantly increased likelihood of getting a seat with more legroom near the front of the cabin for the airline’s most loyal frequent fliers who are not able to upgrade into First Class. At present, Alaska boasts one of the most generous upgrade policies in the industry with an average of 60 percent of the First Class cabin being occupied by upgraded elite frequent flier members.

Retrofitting its fleet will also result in significantly expanded legroom in the First Class cabin, which will see pitch increase from 36 to 41 or 42 inches, making its First Class cabins among the most spacious cabins domestically, the airline said.

With seats that are 21 inches wide - four inches wider than its economy seats - Alaska’s First Class seats will match those of competitors American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and United Airlines (NYSE:UAL). However, Alaska will offer more legroom than First Class in either Delta's or United’s 737s. Legroom in American’s 737s can be as generous as 42 inches, according to

Only acquisition target Virgin America (NYSE:VA) offers more legroom in First Class, with pitch of 55 inches consistently across its fleet of Airbus narrow body aircraft.

In addition to the increased legroom, Alaska will continue to provide its First Class customers with free inflight entertainment tablets, a complimentary selection of fine wines and spirits, and chef-inspired, locally-sourced snacks and meals.

Most interestingly, the addition of between 24 and 30 seats with additional legroom, along with reconfiguring its First Class cabins, will result in a net loss of either two or three seats across the entire aircraft. As I asked when the carrier announced the addition of a premium economy section in 2015, “What took you so long?”

Alaska Airlines is a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group (NYSE:ALK).

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